Drink of the Week: Make Way for Amaro (TCM Fest Salute #1)

Make Way for Amaro. For the last four years or so I’ve had the privilege of attending the annual TCM Classic Film Festival. It’s been great and I’ve been able to cover it from a few different angles, both as a classic film loving cinephile and, last year especially, as a cinema-addled boozer.

This year, however, I’ve come up with a slightly different approach and will be covering the festival right from DOTW. For the next few weeks, rather than simply stealing drinks from elsewhere and trying them out myself as per usual, I’m going to be whipping up my own creations, all inspired by some of the amazing films I was lucky enough to see projected on the big screen in my native Hollywood. I’m not promising they’re all going to be cocktail classics. I’m not even necessarily promising they’ll be any good. I’m definitely not promising that they’ll be terribly original or unique. I am, however, reasonably certain that it’s a great excuse for me talk a little bit about a few remarkable movies.

I’m happy to say, the first drink of our series surprised me by turning out to be very drinkable indeed. In fact, I think I’ll have an easier time persuading many of you to try the drink that than to watch the film. That’s because, our selection is a tragicomic masterpiece about an elderly couple who are forced to separate by the behavior of their selfish, but all too understandable, adult children.

I know nothing I’m going to say that will persuade you that watching  Leo McCarey’s sneaky, awe-inspiring 15 hankie tragicomedy, “Make Way for Tomorrow,” goes down nearly as easily as this rather lively variation on the oldest of popular classic cocktails, but it’s that good a movie. The drink isn’t too terrible either.

Make Way for Amaro

2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye (100 proof)
1/2 ounce Amaro CioCiaro
2 teaspoons soda water or club soda
1 sugar cube
1 orange or grapefruit slice
Garnish with an additional slice of citrus twist

Muddle the sugar cube and citrus slice with the soda water in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the Rittenhouse Rye and Amaro CioCiaro – one of a number of bittersweet Italian after-dinner liqueurs – and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the smallest Tom Collins or Old Fashioned glass you can find. (The one in the picture is too big, but it did okay for me.) Toast your mom and your dad. In fact, if they’re alive, give them a call – before you have a second drink.

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Unless you’re a member of the Cinephile American community, you’ve probably never heard of Leo McCarey’s 1937 masterpiece. Though “Make Way for Tomorrow” has nearly as many well-earned laughs as tears – McCarey is legendary as a director of comedies like “The Awful Truth” and “Duck Soup” – it was a failure at the box-office. It could hardly have been a surpise. With subject matter like this, it would be a tough enough sell on today’s arthouse circuit.

Even so, the film takes a surprising and, at least temporarily, more upbeat turn at what might have been its most maudlin moment as the aged parents break free of their offspring and find themselves in the hotel where they enjoyed their honeymoon 50 years prior. A kindly manager suggests a cocktail and, despite that the fact that the Beulah Bondi character comes from an era when “nice” females never drank in public, they decide on “two Old Fashioneds, for two old-fashioned people.”

Aside from being the height of bittersweet comedic drama, the scene is interesting for cocktail geeks. The Old Fashioneds the couple enjoys actually look nothing like Old Fashioneds you’d get today. They are served in the kind of teeny-tiny glass that was once standard for cocktails – in this case a sort of mini-Tom Collins – and it’s not on the rocks. It’s presumably served up and with a long, spiral orange peel like you’d get in a classic Horse’s Neck.

Even so, I started out making this drink in the usual Old Fashioned fashion by building it in the glass and serving it on the rocks, but the results just didn’t come together. The amaro, which I’m using largely, though not entirely, in the place of the bitters, just kind of held the drink down. Shaking it and serving it in a chilled glass, however, added the kind of lightness to the drink that brought the whole thing together. It’s a bit glib to compare shaking a cocktail to the ample humor in an essentially tragic film, but it really did kind of feel and taste that way.

Finally, though I usually try to make my drinks as non brand-specific as I can, it’s hard enough to come up with a new cocktail in three days if you’re not an absolute souse and have a day job. I will say that I leaned towards the oldest school brands I could.  I went with rye instead of bourbon, and the wondrous Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond over a fancier newer brand because it’s just possible that that’s what Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore might have been served way back in 1937. Like the movie, you might be surprised but it packs at least as much of a punch today as it must have 77 years back.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself and watch the whole movie right here. I guess modern ways aren’t entirely for the birds.

  

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Drink of the Week: The PAMA & Rye

The PAMA & Rye

I’m of the opinion that no two sets of taste buds are precisely the same. For example, to me, saccharin-derived artificial sweeteners (the ones in the pink packages) have a disgusting, nastily bitter aftertaste, but I’ve talked to any number of people to whom the stuff tastes okay in a cup of coffee. On the other hand, I kind of love the harsh bitter edge of Campari, especially as it follows a burst of real sugary sweetness. All some folks can seem to taste is the bitterness and they don’t like it one bit.

On yet another hand, I think tartness might hit my tongue a bit harder than some folks. Long time readers will note my very mild, yet  incessant, whinging about alleged over-tartness on a number of cocktail classics we’ve covered — the Whiskey Sour comes to mind. Therefore, I guess it’s no surprise that — while I always love getting a free bottle of anything non-explosive in the mail — I’m okay with but not quite a sucker for the extra-large bottle of PAMA Pomegranate Flavored Liqueur that a kind soul sent my way.

I like pomegranates and I’m sure those who enjoy tartness may thoroughly enjoy this relatively low-alcohol product straight up on the rocks. Another product from the fine, Kentucky-based Heaven Hill family of beverages, PAMA is what it is, as the annoying saying goes. Not too gussied up and entirely respectable, but not quite my personal thing.

On the other hand, the magic of cocktails being what it is, I’m sure there’s more than one drink in which I’d truly enjoy using PAMA in all its all caps glory. I had to alter this one slightly to make it work for me, but I do dig it. I’ll give you the scoop on the original version, developed by New York mixologist Eben Freeman, after my very slightly adulterated take.

The PAMA & Rye

1 once PAMA Pomegranite Liqueur
1 ounce high proof rye whiskey
1 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1 orange wheel (i.e. thin slice of orange) as garnish, desirable but not essential

Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, without ice. Add the superfine sugar and stir to quickly dissolve. Now, add plenty of ice and shake vigorously. Pour over new ice and your orange wheel garnish into a rocks/old fashioned glass. Sip with an open mind.

***

For my rye, I used the recently featured new Knob Creek 100 proof, but I’d be shocked if the similarly strong, very good, and significantly cheaper Rittenhouse Rye didn’t work about as well or maybe even better. I’m not as sure whether a mere 90 proofer, like Sazerac, would work as well, but I certainly wouldn’t blame you for trying it.

Now, Eben Freeman’s original version of this drink featured half an ounce of simple syrup instead of the three teaspons/one tablespoon of superfine sugar I suggested. Although I often substitute the cheaper/easier and more or less identical — minus the water, of course — superfine sugar for syrup, I happened to have some cane syrup I bought on sale on hand, so I made my first version of this drink as directed. For me, it was, well, too tart — though, I add, no more tart than a typical whiskey sour you’d get from a good bartender.

The good news for me was that upping the sugar proportion very slightly really did the trick. Half an ounce of the syrup I was using contained 40 calories, and a tablespoon of sugar contains 48 calories. So, subtracting a tiny amount of water and adding only eight calories worth of sugar really made all the difference for me. Still, if you love tartness, you’ll definitely want to go the Freeman way. (And you’ll need to buy a bottle of PAMA, too.)

  

Drink of the Week: The Cliquet

The CliquetIn French, “Cliquet” literally means ratchet but can also refer to something that’s looks an awful lot like a screwdriver to this highly un-handy man. Well, the cocktail called the Cliquet looks an awful lot like the orange juice and vodka highball we all know. Let me tell you, though, appearances can be highly deceptive.

The Cliquet is a somewhat mysterious classic. While the exact derivation of the name remains apparently unknown, it’s a perfect summertime drink and about as easy to make as anything you can honestly call a cocktail. After finding it to be all but indestructible through a number of iterations, I’m honestly a bit surprised that this drink isn’t as well known as it’s Anglicized screwdriving cousin. It’s also one of the very few decent cocktails that can actually travel easily in a thermos or other container, but more about that below.

The Cliquet

2 ounces rye, bourbon, or Scotch whiskey
4 ounces orange juice (fresh squeezed or “not from concentrate”)
1 teaspoon dark rum

Build your drink in an old fashioned or a Tom Collins glass. Combine ingredients with plenty of ice. Stir. Drink — no need to toast anyone special with this one, just enjoy it.

***
There was a time in my life when a screwdriver was one of my go-to drink order when I couldn’t think of anything else to ask for. Had I only known that switching out the vodka for whiskey and adding a tiny amount of dark rum could have made such a difference, I’d probably have developed my interest in good cocktails a bit earlier in life. I really am learning to love this drink.

One of the things that’s most lovable about the Cliquet is how easy it is to make and serve. While I enjoyed the versions featuring the fresh juice I personally squeezed from good ol’ California Valencia oranges — which were actually developed just miles south of the current address of Drink of the Week Central — I later found that I got results that were very nearly as good, and somewhat more reliable, using a decent brand of store bought OJ.

That ease of creation proved to be a godsend when I needed an easily portable beverage to bring to the annual Drive-in-Movie outing hosted by world famous film blogger Dennis Cozzalio of the legendary cinephile blog, Sergio Leone and the In-Field Fly Rule. I had hoped to bring the fresh squeezed Cliquet, but simply didn’t have time to squeeze out umpteen oranges. I was delighted to discover that it almost didn’t matter and was pleased to see that I was correct in that the ingredients could be easily premixed and then poured over ice on site into a plastic cup without losing its appeal. At least that’s what Dennis and I thought.

A few words about non-orange juice ingredients. As you might expect, using my beloved 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye yielded a slightly kickier concoction, while 90 proof Buffalo Trace bourbon yields sweeter, though not much less punchy results. My mom’s caregivers — and if anyone can use a drink, these hardworking ladies certainly can — seemed to prefer the version I made with some of my very nice 10-year old Glenrothes single malt Scotch. At 80 proof, I think they found to be a bit less threatening and somewhat smoother than the rye-laden version I brazenly tried out on them previously.

You should definitely feel free to experiment with different proportions. Indeed, mega-cocktail guru David Wondrich’s recipe simply calls for “a small orange juice,” whatever that may mean. Many recipes call for an almost as vague “juice of one orange” and a slightly smaller amount of booze. In any case, there’s no reason not to, yes, ratchet the quantities up and down a bit.

Wondrich also considers the Cliquet mostly appropriate for brunch, but not so much for other times. I’ll have to try actually having a Cliquet before noon on my next big vacation or small lost weekend. I have chosen an occasionally dangerous hobby, I fear.

  

Drink of the Week: The Suburban

The SuburbanToday’s beverage serves a dual purpose. First, it continues my ongoing interest in classic cocktails featuring more than one variety of hard liquor. Secondly, it highlights the fact that you’re erstwhile cocktail explorer will very likely be soon be exchanging one not-quite-urban home base for another. Yes, if all goes as planned I’ll soon be leaving the vast quasi-suburban enclave that is Orange County, California only to very possibly move to the  more centrally located, yet no less suburban, not-quite-city we call the San Fernando Valley — which is Los Angeles in the sense that you get to vote for the mayor of L.A.

As for the Suburban cocktail, it’s a very relaxing but ultra-sophisticated drink that won’t be too all tastes. You might call it “urbane.”

The Suburban

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce dark rum
1/2 ounce port
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters

The ingredients might be unusual but the methodology is as routine as can be. Combine your various boozes and bitters in your cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Purists will insist on stirring the concoction but I say shaking will also work. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and drink a toast to Walt Disney, who envisioned fantastical wonderlands-cum-bedroom communities — most of which never came to be — in Orange County and elsewhere. (Uncle Walt’s company did finally build one planned community, Celebration, Florida, during the 1980s.)

***
For this drink, I used my go-to rye, 100 proof Rittenhouse. Some recipes call specifically for Jamaican Rum, but I used the very decent (and more reasonably priced) dark Whaler’s Rum from Hawaii because that’s what I had on hand. For the exact same reasons, I also used the inexpensive tawny port I’ve been using for a number of drinks lately.

As for the history of this beverage, which dates back to the early 20th century, it apparently has more to do with horse racing than civic sprawl. Even so, for now, the self-indulgent question remains, will Drink of the Week Central end up in one of the bedroom communities of the San Fernando Valley, where my new day job is located, or will I be taking advantage of my beloved hometown’s growing subway system with a move to the vastly more cityish Hollywood/Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Koreatown axis, or will I split the difference and land in North Hollywood or Studio City?

All I can tell you is that, if suburbia be my destination, I’ll try to make it the laid back no-judgements utopian Never Never Land envisioned by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, who also sings, in his fashion, in the song below. Okay, that may be unlikely, but at cocktail hour there’s a little bit of Hasbrook Heights in every home. (The song actually starts at around 0:15.)

  

Drink of the Week: The Whiskey Smash

The Whiskey SmashThe Whiskey Smash is probably one of the clearest examples of a drink rescued from complete obscurity by the ongoing classic cocktail revival. Although the modern version featured in a growing number of retro-friendly bars differs enough from the recipe written up by cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas in 1862 to be an entirely different cocktail, the more polished and slightly more elaborate version below is certainly a classic of sorts.

As it stands, the Whiskey Smash is a close relative of the Mojito and the (I swear upcoming) Mint Julep. It’s outstanding for a warm day or in a bar so crowded if feels like a warm day. Certainly if you’re a fan of whiskey, lemon, mint,  and heavy muddling, this is your drink.

The Whiskey Smash

2-3 ounces whiskey (bourbon, rye, Canadian, etc.)
1 quarter lemon, cut into four or more pieces
5 or more mint leaves
2-3 teaspoons superfine sugar
3 dashes of bitters
1/2-3/4 ounce water (optional)
1 mint sprig (semi-optional garnish)
1 maraschino cherry (very optional garnish)

Combine your whiskey, lemon pieces, superfine sugar, mint leaves and, if you like, splash of water in a cocktail shaker. (The water is really only there to approximate the 1/2 to 3/4 ounces of simple syrup most recipes call for instead of sugar, but I found the results about the same whether or not I included it.)

Muddle it all rather intensely, paying special attention to give a good mushing to the lemon pieces — this is a “smash” after all. You can take it a bit easier on the mint if you like. Make sure, however, that your sugar is dissolved in the liquid, which should happen without too much effort if you’re using superfine sugar and not cheating with ordinary table sugar.

Add lots of ice — cracked or crushed ice is probably better — and shake vigorously. Strain into a well chilled old fashioned glass with a few ice cubes in it. Because of all the lemon, mint, and crushed ice you may have to exercise a bit more patience at the straining stage, but your forebearance will shortly be rewarded. If you’d like an extra dash of sweetness and color, add a maraschino cherry along with the semi-obligatory mint-spring.

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I found the results remarkably consistent regardless of which whiskey I used, though I found using Buffalo Trace bourbon resulted in a slightly more mellow and interesting smash than the super-reasonably priced Evan Williams I picked up for a ten spot. 100 proof whiskeys seem to work well here, and I had good luck using my standby Rittenhouse Rye as well as the hard to find 100 proof Canadian Club I’m lucky enough to have. (You can buy it online here.) I also found that this one drink that worked very nicely not only with traditional aromatic bitters like Angostura, but also with the bottle of Fee Brothers Celery Bitters I recently picked up. (Speaking of revived classics, as I understand it, celery bitters pretty much disappeared between sometime in the middle of prohibition and, believe it or not, 2008.)

I’ve also noticed there’s something of a fetish among bartenders not to end up with bits of mint in the final, strained drink. It happened to me a lot of the time, and it wasn’t a problem  either in terms of taste or aesthetics, in my view.

And just a reminder that you will really need a good, solid muddler suitable for lemon smashing as described so long ago in our guide to bar implements. If you don’t have one, you can improvise but you want something solid. A freshly washed hammer used with extreme caution, perhaps.

 

  

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